Researchers aim to develop a new contraceptive that also protects against STIs
February 18, 2022
3 minute read
The NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Development recently awarded an $11 million grant to the Population Council Center for Biomedical Research to develop a new contraceptive.
Researchers will create the first non-hormonal Multipurpose Vaginal Technology (MPT) ring, which will act as contraception against sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
“This unique product has the potential to meet a wide range of sexual and reproductive needs, including protection against sexually transmitted infections, contraception, and vaginal health support,” Lisa Haddad, MD, MPH, Population Council director and senior researcher, said in a press release. “Women need more options to manage their changing sexual and reproductive health needs. The non-hormonal MPT ring offers hope for an important new contraceptive option that could provide women with protection against the growing risk of STIs.
Healio sat down with Haddad to learn more about the defining characteristics of the contraceptive, the study and the future of the device.
Helio: How will this ring be different from existing products?
Hadad: Unlike currently available contraceptive rings, this one does not contain hormones. There are also other attributes of this product that broaden the prevention profile beyond pregnancy. It is also designed to protect against sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, along with other properties that may help optimize the vaginal microenvironment and reduce the risk of bacterial vaginosis.
Helio: Will it be long term Solution, or will it be a single-use device?
Hadad: We aim for each ring to provide continuous protection for a period of 1 month or 3 months, as long as the ring is in place. Alternatively, it is a non-hormonal product, so to some extent there might be some flexibility for people looking for intermittent protection. With hormonal birth control, if you don’t use it the way you want, it can lead to breakthrough bleeding or changes in your bleeding pattern. A non-hormonal contraceptive does not have to have the same profile. So if you’re the type of person who has infrequent sex or is in a long distance relationship and doesn’t necessarily need protection all the time, you can have that flexibility with this product.
Helio: How does it protect against both pregnancy and STIs?
Hadad: There are a few different active ingredients in this formulation that we are looking at, and each of the different active ingredients has activity against – and sometimes overlapping activity against – different endpoints, such as anti-sperm activity or anti-sperm activity. -gonorrhea. In addition, one of the active ingredients has the property of optimizing the vaginal pH, which in itself also has protective properties.
Helio: What limitations do you anticipate with this device?
Hadad: As a product developer, our goal is to expand choice and provide people with options that fit their lifestyle with a profile they seek in a prevention product. It is not a one size fits all. Recognizing this, our goal is to provide different products for different people.
I think the fact that it is a user dependent method, compared to IUDs, implants and other methods that are vendor dependent, will ultimately lead to potentially lower typical efficacy for a product contraceptive, simply because of the nature of human error. That being said, many people want a user-controlled product, so we recognize this as a limitation and a strength of the product.
Helio: Would it be available on prescription or inasmuch as more than-the counter product?
Hadad: Our ultimate goal is to reduce barriers to access, so our goal would be to make this an over-the-counter product.
Helio: What is the study design?
Hadad: There are several different components in our current program. We have aspects related to formulation and animal testing. We also seek to optimize product design to meet user needs, so we evaluate non-medicated vaginal rings of different compression strengths – the bendability of the ring – to see which are more comfortable, which are less likely to come out when an individual strains. We will ask questions about how people want to use the product so that we can optimize our product to meet the needs.
Helio: IAre there expectations/timeline for approval and commercialization?
Hadad: In product development, it is not always clear at these early stages how long it will take before the product is in the hands of users. We hope to be able to ramp up development as quickly as possible, recognizing that there are often iterations that can cause unexpected changes to our schedule.
Healio: Is there anything else important to know?
Hadad: In general, these multi-purpose prevention products have an additional public health benefit in that they can enhance the protection of an individual against other infections or diseases without necessarily adding additional burden to the individual, and that many individuals may be at risk without knowing it. So having these added benefits may ultimately lead to a greater impact on public health. In addition, a non-hormonal method by itself would potentially open up possibilities of providing additional options for people who may have limitations or contraindications to hormonal methods and would improve choice for these people.
For more information:
Lisa Haddad, MD, MPH, can be contacted at [email protected]